Helpful and Money Saving Travel Hacks

In the past I would have said that I'm not a frequent traveler, but now that I think about it, ever since I've been married my husband and I have traveled at least once a year on vacation with our within our country, and then five years ago I traveled to the US once for work, and then within the last year I flew abroad twice very frugally and am preparing for another trip (I'm leaving tonight in the middle of the night to the airport), and I have to say that I'm getting this traveling thing down pat, and have figured out some tips and hacks that make traveling go smoother, as well as saving money. I use these tips when traveling abroad, but many are also useful when traveling even within your country.

Most of these travel hacks and tips are things you need to prepare in advance, which is why they're on my mind now that I'm getting ready to travel in just a few hours. However, if you get these things ready in advance, it can make the difference between making your trip enjoyable and relaxing, or stressed out and financially taxing.

So, in no specific order, here's my helpful and money saving travel hacks:

Research Transportation Options. It usually works out cheaper to use public transportation or ride sharing options than it costs to rent a car. Taxis can be quite expensive if you use them constantly to get around, but if you use them infrequently on your trips they may be cheaper than renting a car. 
Look into ride sharing options. Blablacar and Lyft and Uber can be decent alternatives to public transportation, and certain countries have other carpooling apps. With Blablacar people put up the times and dates and locations that they are traveling and how much it costs, and if it suits your travel plan, you can book a ride with them. This generally is cheaper than European intercity trains and buses, from my experience.
Research routes and times. The biggest thing about using public transportation or ride sharing instead of renting a car or taking a taxi is you're stuck to their schedules, which may not be the most convenient for you. In Lublin in Poland I was shocked that public transportation shut down at 9 pm (locally it continues at least until midnight and then has night lines) and ended up nearly being stranded. Research routes and until when they go, so that you aren't stuck unable to take public transportation and needing to pay much more for an unexpected taxi (and in many places, night fares are more expensive and start much earlier than you would think).
Get public transportation apps. In most countries I find Google Maps is the best way to figure out public transportation from one way to another: get it in your phone. In some countries Google Maps doesn't have public transportation listed, but there often are other local apps you can use for that.
Find out about day passes and open ended tickets. I only learned after I'd already made my plans for the day, but when I was in Belgium, I learned that if you buy a train ticket from point A to point B, you can get on and off the train as many times and in as many places as you want between point A and B during that day. Additionally, in many places you can get day passes that cover all public transportation in certain regions, which can be cheaper than paying for each fare individually.

Figure Out Accommodations. If you wait until last minute you'll likely be stuck with sub par and more expensive options. I recommend actually researching accommodations before booking your airfare to wherever you're going, making sure that you can actually find frugal places to stay.
Check amenities. Sometimes by spending a bit more on a place with more amenities, you can save money on other things. After a mistake I made on one trip, I make sure that every place I stay has Wifi. By getting a place with Wifi, you can often go without a data plan, saving money, but more on that later. Getting a place with a kitchen means that you can make your own food and don't need to spend money eating out at restaurants or buying ready made food.
Don't be afraid of airport overnights. If you're leaving early in the morning from the airport, check in will likely be too early in the morning for public transportation to be running. If it is, in my experience, the best thing is to spend the night in the airport. (Since you need to leave in the middle of the night if you don't spend the night in the airport, you aren't likely to get more hours of sleep if you start it in your accommodations vs if you sleep in the airport, not to mention that this really causes an increase in price.) Many sleep in the airport, and its completely normal and accepted to sleep there. And if you do this, figure it out and plan it before you book your accommodations so you don't end up spending money on another night in a place you're not sleeping because you're at the airport. Just a helpful tip I got from someone: there is even a website dedicated to sleeping in airports that tells you what amenities you have at different airports and all the information that would be helpful when you plan on staying the night or even just have a long layover in an airport.

Pack Lightly. Most of the frugal airfare I've found lately and taken don't include checked luggage. I've had flights that allowed a small carry on and a personal bag, a small carry on and a small personal bag, and now I'm going on a flight that includes only a small carry on and no personal bag. I will not pay more for luggage because generally the cost of luggage is nearly the same as what I paid for my airfare, or even more. Traveling lightly, making do with the bare minimum, is the best way, in my opinion. I'd rather buy things there than spend money on bringing things there and back.
Capsule wardrobe. In general I like to have what they call a capsule wardrobe, where you don't have specific outfits, but rather keep to a general color scheme and have all your clothes be able to be worn with everything else, so you can mix and match as many outfits as possible. Even if you don't do this all the time, when you travel a capsule wardrobe is especially helpful, allowing you to bring as minimal clothing as possible, which doesn't take up too much room, leaving whatever other room you have in your small luggage for other money saving essentials.

Frugal Food Suggestions. I mentioned above that I make sure to stay at a place with a kitchen because making my own food is much more frugal, but it goes beyond that.
Cook your own food. If you want to experience the local food, you can buy the ingredients locally and cook them in the AirBnB for much cheaper than you can generally get at a restaurant. This is what I plan on doing on my trip to Romania, making mamaliga and other traditional Romanian dishes. This is a good website to learn how to make different foods from around the globe.
Bring your own food, or at least as much as you can without needing to bring extra luggage. You make room by taking fewer outfits and things in general. Well, not everything should be brought, especially not heavy bulky things or things like cans. 
Why bring your own food? When you shop locally, you are aware of standard costs, sale prices, etc... and where to get things cheaper. You can stock up on sale and bring things bought cheaply with you. Compare that to shopping abroad, where you might not be able to find cheap stores, can't specifically take advantage of sales, and generally won't be able to do much by way of price comparison and bargain shopping. This is especially true if you need special types of foods, like gluten free ones. For that reason, I generally bring along gluten free crackers, homemade jerky, and often also homemade fruit and vegetable leather. This time I didn't bring my standard, but packed from home shelf stable sausages, gluten free Japanese style rice crackers, packaged roasted and peeled chestnuts, as well as gluten free crackers. These foods are all things that I can carry along with me on day trips, which is especially important, because buying foods while out and about is generally the most expensive way to buy food. Additionally, there are small things that to buy new while traveling can be expensive, but if you bring a little from home, you save yourself the expense of needing to buy a whole new container. For this reason, I like to usually pack a spice mix with me, as well as some coconut sugar, and some tea bags, and sometimes peanut butter or nut butter.
Shop like a local. Its especially important to not buy food and drinks at tourist traps because things are priced accordingly. Airports are one of the priciest places to shop. Shop at grocery stores, ideally not corner shops where there is limited selection and competition, and prices are marked up for convenience. My mother told me that when she was in Romania last summer, she shopped at the standard grocery stores, but only on the last day found out that there was an open air market, where things were cheaper. She told me to be on the lookout for the open air markets in Craiova, and I will be trying to do that. When I go away every summer to a beach town with my family, the shops near the beach are all extremely overpriced, so I researched where there are discount grocery stores and have started traveling by bus there to shop for my family, which makes a huge difference.
Bring travel containers. Eating on the go is hard, but I find that if I bring travel containers from home, I can take leftovers of the food I made in the AirBnB to eat with me while I'm out. 
Make your own drinks. I do enjoy a good drink, especially when on vacation. However, instead of going out to restaurants and bars (unless your purpose is the socialization aspect), I find buying fruit juice and vodka and making my own mixed drink to be terrific and far cheaper than going out for a drink.

Consider Your Phone and Internet Options. I find that when I am traveling, I tend to be very reliant on my phone, and specifically the internet. There are so many tools to make traveling easier and more enjoyable that I thought relied on the internet, and for that reason I usually spent a lot of money on my cell phone for while I was traveling. Now I learned that most of the tools that I relied on the internet for can actually be done without the internet.
Google Maps is super useful in helping get from one place to another. You can download maps of the areas you'll be in before getting there, allowing you to use the map with GPS without needing to be connected to the internet.
Google Translate is another extremely helpful tool for traveling. Yes, while traveling, I often meet people who speak English, but sometimes I get stuck in places where not a single person speaks a word of English. In this case, being able to type my query into the Google Translate app and have it also translate the words typed but also play them back verbally is so useful. But now I learned that I can download languages in advance; I currently have Romanian saved on my phone, so I can use this without the internet. Google Translate also has a conversation setting where you press the microphone and the language being spoken, and you can just talk into the phone and it'll play back the translation in the other language. Highly highly recommend this tool.
Netflix is a great way to watch movies and pass time, but I always thought you needed the internet for this. My last trip I discovered from a seatmate on my plane that you can download shows and movies in advance. Perfect way to pass the time without needing to pay for on board wifi (if its even available). 
Local SIM cards. That said, having a phone with internet can certainly be useful. In Europe, you can generally buy Sim cards at grocery stores, for cheaper than paying for an international SIM that you buy locally and cheaper than at the airport. I plan on doing that this time, but on the off chance that I can't find one, I'm set because the things that I rely on my internet for, I already have downloaded on my phone.
Get info in advance. I find it useful to have a written or printed list of information that I need, including how to get from one place to another by public transportation, the contact information of the place you're staying, lists and locations of free and cheap things to do. If you pack lightly and leave behind your computer (like I'm doing this trip), you'll have an easier time searching for the information when you're on the computer, and have it printed up just in case you can't get your internet to work, or if you are doing without internet, or it takes some time for you to get internet.

Other Useful Tips and Hacks.
Choose insurance carefully. After going to the hospital with a suspected blood clot when I traveled to the US five years ago, I learned how important it is not only to have travel health insurance, but also what kind. The type of health insurance I had then required first laying out money to pay for your care, and then getting reimbursed afterwards. If you're short on cash, you might not be able to have the money to pay for your care. For that reason, I choose to spend more on insurance that works like a debit card, that you pay a little more per day, but you never need to lay out cash for treatment; they pay it all via filling the debit card as needed, which you then use to pay for the treatment. It's worth the headache, especially because I don't have extra cash available to pay for possible treatment.
Convert money in advance.  Airports are the most expensive place to convert cash. With some bank accounts, it works out cheapest to draw cash where you are. I find it most useful to convert cash in my home country before I travel, because this way I know the different shops and I can price compare and see who will give me the best exchange rate.
Plug converters. A useful website I've discovered helps people know what type of plugs work in different countries, compared to where you're coming from. It helps you know if you need adapters, converters, etc...
Take scooters for kids. I'm not experienced traveling with kids on planes, but my best friend taught me a very useful tip. Kids often complain about the walking in airports. Or they're bored while waiting around. You can take a fold up scooter or riding toy for the kids to ride in the airport, to get from one place to the next, and then it goes on to the plane with you as your personal item. I'm not doing this because the flight I'm going on doesn't allow a personal item in addition to your carry on, but if yours does, many swear by this sanity saving tip.
Puddle Jumping. Another travel hack from my friend, which is a little risky, but can save money. If you're flying somewhere with a stop over along the way, you can use different airlines for each leg, and in many cases you won't need to go through security again; you just need to make it from one gate to the next. However, the down sides to this is that you can only bring carry on luggage, no checked luggage. Additionally, if one flight is delayed and you miss your connecting flight, you're a little bit screwed, because the airlines won't reimburse you for the next flight the same way that would happen if it was the same airline. However, people do this because it can save a tremendous amount of money; on my friend's last trip, the total fare was only $500 instead of the $800 it would have been otherwise.

I hope these tips are as useful to you as they've been to me. I find that each trip I learn new things that help save my sanity and make my trip more frugal. Instead of just learning from my mistakes, I wanted to share with you so that you can have as great a trip as possible, with as little money spent as possible.

What do you find are your best and most helpful travel hacks, either for your sanity, or to save you money?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. Great tips! Now I'll add a couple of mine.

    1. Expect the unexpected. You will be a tourist and unexpected expenses will pop up, whether you get ripped off by a cab driver, realize that you are missing something and need to replace it, or discover some experience or item that you must have. This is even more likely if you are going somewhere you've never been before, even more so if the foreign currencies or languages are involved. We always add an extra 10% of unknown to our trip budget. If you don't end up spending that money, great! If not, don't feel bad about it since you haven't gone over budget.

    Also, like your blog says, budget for travel in a way that is meaningful to you. Sleeping in airports is not my cup of tea. And I do like to eat out at least once on a vacation. But the bottom line is to work out an itinerary that is in your budget while still enjoying yourself.

  2. ReseRese research, research before you go, and ask around to see if anyany you know has visited there. IveI gotteg great tips from friends who have been to places before me - from restaurants to try, to how to see The Last Supper in Milan without the crowds.

    I like to try local cuisine (I have no allergies) but will often eat out at lunchtime as its cheaper, and have a sandwich for dinner.

  3. I disagree about not being able to find cheap food abroad. I mean, I can understand that being the case if you follow a restrictive diet, but if you don't have any food restrictions, it's perfectly possible to find decent, not-too-unhealthy street food just about everywhere if you're willing to sniff around and follow your nose. I once borrowed a friend's apartment in Maastricht, thinking that it would save me some money because I could cook - but because it was only me and my kid, I could only get single servings and small sizes, unless I wanted to throw half of it away. I calculated that actually, we'd have done better if we'd just gone out to eat every night.

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